Crown Point Vineyards of the Happy Canyon AVA

While Santa Barbara County is well-known for its cool climate and expressive wines made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, those things don’t define the entire region. The Happy Canyon AVA, in the eastern-most portion of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA is warm, with degree days similar to Rutherford in Napa Valley. Its best wines are made from Bordeaux varieties. One of the newest wineries in Happy Canyon is Crown Point Vineyards.

Named Crown Point in 2012 under a new owner, the vineyard had been called Three Creek and its winery Cimarone. Three Creek was probably best-known as a source of Syrah for wines from Rhone-grape specialists such as Andrew Murray and Tensley.

The new owners have made considerable investments in both vineyard and winery. They also brought in a new winemaker, Adam Henkel. He came to Crown Point from Harlan Estate in Napa Valley where he had worked for eight years with Cory Empting, Bob Levy and Michel Rolland.

I toured the property with Adam Henkel in December. The estate encompasses 104 acres of rocky, mostly sloping land. Fifty of those acres are currently planted to grapes. The original blocks date back to 2001. 18 acres of those vines remain. The rest were ripped out to a depth of eight feet and totally replaced under the guidance of vineyard manager Juve Buenrostro. Buenostro is an expert on Happy Canyon and tends other vineyards in the AVA, though he now lives on site at Crown Point. The goals in replanting were improving selection and adjusting spacing and facing.

The vines now include all five red Bordeaux varieties plus Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Viognier and the Happy Canyon AVA’s first Petite Sirah vines. The Petite Sirah is planted to high-density—3 x 2 spacing—and head-trained so that two neighboring vines form a teepee. This helps them withstand the extreme winds of Happy Canyon which sometimes exceed 60 miles per hour.

The winery is also on the estate, as is a home where owner Roger Bower lives. The winery was almost a blank slate for Henkel when he arrived. He specified the tanks, barrels, equipment and control systems. His toolkit now includes large oak fermenters with stainless lids, custom-made concrete fermenters—including two eggs and several tapered cylinders—and a couple of large stainless tanks.

The fruit is all hand-picked into small bins. Because Crown Point has plenty of tank space for fermenting lots separately, harvest is methodical with bunches being gathered only when Henkel thinks they’re just right. There’s no hurry.

After hand-sorting, the whole berries undergo a 45° degree cold soak for five to eight days before being heated to 60° to initiate fermentation. After fermentation with punch-downs and/or pump-overs three to four times daily, the wine lingers on the pomace for an extended, warm maceration.

Crown Point Vineyards Current Releases

Right now, Crown Point Vineyards offers two wines from the estate. One is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, the other a red blend called “Relevant Red.” The varietal composition of the latter wine will vary from vintage to vintage. The wines are sold exclusively through Crown Point’s mailing list.

2013 Crown Point Cabernet Sauvignon Happy Canyon 93 14.7% 750ml $185
2013 was the first vintage under the Crown Point label. 372 cases of this wine were made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, clones 337 and 8. The wine aged 26 months in new French oak barrels from five coopers. It was bottled in March 2016 and released in November.

Very dark ruby, almost black, in the glass, the wine offers a fruit-driven, yet disciplined, nose of black currant, black cherry and dark spices. The palate is full-bodied and intense with flavors that match the black-fruited nose with oaky nuances. There’s freshness to the wine and fine-grained tannins with a touch of chalk that are persistent but pleasant and approachable.

2013 Crown Point Relevant Red Happy Canyon 92 750ml 14.8% $185
The 2013 Crown Point Relevant Red combines 30% each of Malbec, Petit Verdot and Syrah with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon to create an opaque, purple wine with aromas of jammy black currant, black berry, dark plum,  tobacco and spice with a hint of mint. The palate, nearly full-bodied, carries those flavors forward with an increased focus on the spice. Length is excellent and the fine-grained, chalky tannins offer grip that suggests the capacity for long aging. 382 cases.

Crown Point Vineyards Barrel Samples

I also tasted two barrel samples from the 2014 vintage, both of which are very promising. A 100% Cabernet Sauvignon sample from Block 8 was rich on the palate with good balance, fine-grained texture and long flavors of black currant, dark chocolate and spice. If bottled on its own, I’d give it 94 points.

The other sample was an estate blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. It’s also well-balanced and the three varieties and oak are already very nicely integrated. Flavors are focused on purple-berried jam and spice. 93 points as it stands.

Copyright Fred Swan 2017. All rights reserved.

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